For the past few years, Disney remakes have been oversaturating their produced movies. Who could forget the more recently released “Aladdin,” “The Lion King” or “Mulan?” And these are only a few examples. There’s even a new live-action “The Little Mermaid” in the making. While I have not seen all of the movies I listed above, I have not enjoyed any I have seen.
Another Disney movie set for release in December, “Soul,” drew criticism for its similarity to “Inside Out.” In both films, the main character’s personalities are personified by adorable, non-human creatures. Although the trailer does not explain the entire context of the movie, I found the resemblance obvious from the released clips.
I was skeptical when I saw that the trailer for “Raya and the Last Dragon” had dropped on Walt Disney Animation Studios’ YouTube channel on Oct. 21. I was hoping it didn’t feel like a loosely based reframing of another previous Disney movie.
The stunning animation and new storyline pleasantly surprised me. The movie is filled with new characters that are unlike anything I could recognize from previous Disney movies.
“Raya and the Last Dragon” revolves around the main character, Raya, as she searches for the last dragon in order to save humanity from an evil force.
While this basic breakdown of the plot mirrors movies such as “Moana” or “Frozen 2,” in which the main female characters search for help from godly or otherworldly forces to stop a mysterious threat, the presentation shows a rebranding of this theme in an exciting way.
This movie has also been applauded for its representation of Southeast Asian cultures. While the setting is not a distinct country and instead draws inspiration from multiple Southeast Asian cultures, this move toward more accurate portrayals of diversity is a great step for Disney.
Raya is voiced by Kelly Marie Tran, who previously starred in the last two “Star Wars” sequels. Hopefully, this movie will serve as a redemption arc for the actress, as she was previously subjected to racist harassment for her role in the movies.
Another notable aspect of “Raya and the Last Dragon” is the model of a badass, independent female lead. This was also seen in “Moana,” where a heterosexual romance is not a main focus of the story. While I don’t think that romantic interest has necessarily detracted from the quality of previous Disney movies, it is refreshing to see women represented as happily single and able to pursue personal growth without relying heavily on their male love interests.
Of course, there’s also the added benefit of any Disney princess movie, which is the animal sidekick. Tuk Tuk, an adorable armadillo-like creature, accompanies Raya in the trailer and seems to help her through her tasks.
The intense music and fight scenes shown in the trailer portray a movie that appeals to a more mature audience as well as children. While I appreciate this, I hope that the addition of Tuk Tuk will add a light-hearted touch and bring out a softer side of the main character.
As of now, “Raya and the Last Dragon” is set for release in U.S. theaters in March of 2021. However, with the coronavirus pandemic altering the trajectory of some movie releases, it probably would not hurt to assume this could change as the date nears.